College football’s early signing period is nearly upon us. For fans around the country, this is a time of excitement and hope for the future. While Iowa fans still have a New Year’s Day bowl game to look forward to, this is a time to look beyond January first and project into 2019 and beyond.
Following an 8-4 season full of ups and downs, the Hawkeyes return quite a bit for next season. However, there will be some familiar faces heading for the exits.
For starters, star tight end Noah Fant has already declared for the NFL draft and become the first player in Kirk Ferentz’s 20 seasons to forego the bowl game to prepare. He may not be the last of the tight end group to depart early as T.J. Hockenson’s stock continues to rise after winning the Mackey Award and being named a Second Team All-American.
Hockenson, along with fellow All-American Amani Hooker and quarterback Nate Stanley, put in paperwork to be evaluated by the NFL. As of now, there have been no decisions made, but it’s not impossible to see one or more of those guys depart along with Fant.
While potentially painful losses, those are the “good” departures. The Hawkeyes also have a few ‘bad” departures. Not the kind that are likely to hurt the starting lineup, but the kind that aren’t due to positive performance on the field. We’ve already seen a pair of defensive backs in Josh Turner and Trey Creamer announce their plans to transfer, as well as linebacker Aaron Mends who will pursue a grad transfer. This all comes ahead of bowl prep and additional departures are likely.
So where does that leave things from a scholarship standpoint? The short answer is under the limit. The Hawkeyes are sitting at 65 scholarship players as of now. There are currently 33 offensive players and 31 defensive players on scholarship and slated to return next year. Additionally, punter Ryan Gersonde is on scholarship, taking the total to 65 scholarship players coming back.
With the scholarship limit at 85 and 65 players set to return, that leaves 20 scholarships currently open. That’s not to say the Hawkeyes will take 20 in the class. They may go over 20 given the high likelihood of additional departures after the bowl or during spring practice. They could also choose to take fewer commits than they have open scholarships so they can allocate a few to current walk-ons.
With those roughly 20 open scholarships, the Hawkeyes have a few areas of need they’re looking to fill. On the offensive side of the ball, there are a few positions the staff looks to take a player or two every season. Quarterback and running back come to mind. This season is no different. But a look at the scholarship distribution shows a few other areas of varying degrees of need.
Offensive Scholarship Distribution
|QB||Peyton Mansell||Spencer Petras||Alex Padilla||Deuce Hogan||4|
|RB||Toren Young; Mekhi Sargent||Ivory Kelly-Martin||Samson Evans; Tyler Goodson||Shadrick Byrd||Gavin Williams; Leshon Williams||8|
|WR||Max Cooper; Brandon Smith; Ihmir Smith-Marsette||Henry Marchese; Oliver Martin||Tyrone Tracy: Calvin Lockett: Nico Ragaini||Desmond Hutson||Quavon Matthews; Diante Vines||11|
|TE||Shaun Beyer||Sam LaPorta||Josiah Miamien||Luke Lachey; Elijah Yelverton||5|
|OL||Cole Banwart; Alaric Jackson; Tristan Wirfs||Mark Kallenberger; Coy Kirkpatrick; Kyler Schott||Cody Ince; Jeff Jenkins; Tyler Linderbaum; Jack Plumb||Justin Britt; Tyler Endres; Noah Fenske; Ezra Miller||Tyler Elsbury; Mason Richman; Josh Volk||17|
The one that jumps off the page right away is tight end. The Hawkeyes are losing Noah Fant and possibly T.J. Hockenson this year and following next season they will only have Shaun Beyer on scholarship. Look for Iowa to re-stock the cupboards their and take at least two and likely 3 tight ends.
Much like the QB and RB spots, there is likely to be at least 1 and maybe 2 WRs in just about every class to keep things balanced. At OL, there are more numbers, but more need to build long term depth. Expect at least 3 linemen in every class and this one will be no different.
Finally, the cupboard at fullback looks bare at first glance. But the Hawkeyes have traditionally filled that void with converted linebackers. There were more than 20 walk-ons in last year’s class, including a number of prime candidates for fullback of the future.
Turning to the defensive side of the ball, we see a similar story. There is some depth at some positions and others which need the cupboard replenished.
Defensive Scholarship Distribution
|S||Geno Stone||Jack Koerner||Dallas Craddieth; Kaevon Merriweather||Sebastian Castro||Reginald Bracy||6|
|CB||Matt Hankins||Riley Moss||Terry Roberts; DJ Johnson; Dane Belton; Julius Brents||Jermari Harris; Daraun McKinney||Brendan Deasfernandes; Keylen Gulley; AJ Lawson||11|
|LB||Nick Niemann; Barrington Wade||Djimon Colbert||Seth Benson; Jack Campbell; Dillon Doyle; Logan Klemp||Jestin Jacobs; Yahweh Jeudy||Jay Higgins||10|
|DE||AJ Epenesa; Chauncey Golston; Zach VanValkenburg||John Waggoner||Jake Karchinski; TJ McCall; Chris Reames||Yahyah Black; Deontae Craig; Ethan Hurkett; Lukas Van Ness||11|
|DT||Austin Schulte||Daviyon Nixon||Noah Shannon||Logan Lee||Michael Lois; Logan Jones; Isaiah Bruce||7|
Safety looks a lot like the quarterback spot on offense. There’s great spacing with one in each class currently and there is likely to be one just about every year, including this one. You could also see the staff look for an additional safety given the way they’ve taken to using senior-to-be Amani Hooker in the new “star” position and the simple fact there are at least 2 safeties on the field at any time in Phil Parker’s defense. Adding an athlete with some flexibility to move to that star position or possibly cornerback would make some sense.
Speaking of corner, the Hawkeyes are slated to have 5 of them on the roster after the 2019 season. That may seem like a lot, but as we saw this season, there are likely to be 3, 4 or even 5 guys playing the position over the course of a season. It’s a spot where the Hawkeyes could use a little depth. Expect them to take at least 1 commit who has the ability to slide into the corner spot as needed and possibly another who would be used there exclusively.
Linebacker is another spot, similar to the offensive line, where the staff looks to keep the cupboards stocked with 2 or so commits in each class. Because the position group is full of athletes who can contribute on special teams or be converted to other positions (fullback!), it’s a good idea to carry around 10 of them on the roster at any time. Look for the staff to take 2-3 three in this class.
That leaves us with the defensive line, which is an interesting group for the Hawks. There’s a LOT of talent sitting on the roster already, particularly at defensive end. While Matt Nelson is leaving this season, Anthony Nelson will be gone following next year (if not sooner). That leaves a trio of talented guys who will be juniors when the class of 2019 steps foot on campus.
Behind them, there is a void with only one other DE on the roster. That other end is incredibly talented - John Waggoner was a former 4-star recruit himself - but that doesn’t leave much in the way of depth for the future. Expect the staff to look for at least 2 ends in this group, maybe more if they find guys they think could show flexible to move inside as needed.
A quick glance at the distribution chart shows that need for a guy to slide inside doesn’t appear great as of now, but the tackle spot is senior-heavy heading into this upcoming season. There is a lot of potential in the underclassmen, including the much anticipated Daviyon Nixon and a pair of RS freshmen in Noah Shannon and Tyler Linderbaum. But adding another body to space things out on the distribution chart would be good and should be expected.
So, we know there are 20 scholarships already open and the class is likely to be in that neighborhood when the dust settles in February. As it stands right now, Iowa has 16 players committed in the class of 2019.
Here’s a rundown of who’s already in the fold. Note the star ratings are via Rivals.
Class of 2019 Commitment List
|Tyler Endres||OL||Norwalk, IA||6'6"||280||3||6/24/17|
|Logan Lee||TE||Orion, IL||6'5"||225||3||6/24/17|
|Ezra Miller||OL||Holstein, IA||6'6"||280||3||4/22/17|
|Noah Fenske||OL||New Hampton, IA||6'5"||280||3||3/2/18|
|Jack Campbell||LB||Cedar Falls, IA||6'4"||210||3||3/31/18|
|Sebastian Castro||DB||Oak Lawn, IL||6'1"||198||3||4/25/18|
|Desmond Hutson||WR||Raytown, MO||6'4"||195||3||5/8/18|
|Jestin Jacobs||LB||Clayton, OH||6'4"||205||3||5/11/18|
|Jake Karchinski||DE||De Pere, WI||6'5"||245||3||5/18/18|
|Alex Padilla||QB||Greenwood Village, CO||6'2"||195||3||6/14/18|
|Jalen Hunt||DE||Belleville, MI||6'2"||245||3||6/23/18|
|Dane Belton||DB||Tampa, FL||6'1"||185||3||6/24/18|
|Justin Britt||OL||Indianapolis, IN||6'4"||282||3||6/24/18|
|Tyler Goodson||RB||Suwanee, GA||5'10"||192||3||7/3/18|
|Josiah Miamen||TE||Dunlap, IL||6'4"||225||3||9/23/18|
|Chris Reames||DE||Van Meter, IA||6'7"||220||3||10/31/18|
It’s a good group overall. The class as a whole is ranked 45th nationally by Rivals and 40th by 247 Sports. That puts them 10th and 9th respectively in the Big Ten.
Those aren’t great rankings, but they are fairly consistent with where the Hawkeyes have been historically. More importantly, those rankings are likely to go up with teams currently ranked ahead of them due to having more (sometimes several more) current commitments. Expect Iowa to come in somewhere between 35-40 nationally and 8-10 in the conference when the dust settles.
Perhaps the most important thing is how those commits fit with the team and its needs. Iowa has a history of passing on recruits it feels aren’t cultural fits, sometimes at the expense of missing out on talent and star rankings. This year they seem to have found a group that has talent and fits both culturally and with the needs.
Here’s a breakout of how the current commits fit with the perceived needs outlined above.
As you can see, all the areas of need have been addressed at least to some degree. The only position groups where there are fewer commits than perceived needs are tight end, linebacker, defensive line and wide receiver.
That may be a bit misleading as the need at receiver is more nice to have than true need. The same could be said for tight end given the staff has a pair of really good tight ends already committed (Logan Lee is listed as a 4-star by 247 Sports and Josiah Miamen had a very impressive offer list thanks to his Noah Fant-like skillset).
But if you look to project out how the class may round out, it’s safe to assume the staff will at least be looking at those remaining needs as positions to consider. There’s a very high likelihood they sign another defensive lineman and likely another tight end and linebacker.
They’ve also been targeting a handful of defensive backs given the two commits already on board both could project to safety. Beyond that, it’s likely to be a best available situation. Running back is a position they’ve long been thought to be only taking one (to the point of turning away a certain commit to another P5 program in the state), but with some of the departures there they now seem open to taking a second to go along with Georgia native Tyler Goodson.
If the current list of commits is any indication, you can expect the Hawkeye staff to cast a wide net spanning much of the country as they search for the right fit. Here’s a geographic breakdown of the existing commitments.
As you can see, there’s a strong midwest focus as you’d expect, but there continues to be an effort to build a pipeline into some key states like Georgia, Florida and Michigan. Expect the staff to follow a similar path as they look to fill those 4-6 remaining scholarships.
They’re already hard at work on that effort. Each of the assistant coaches has been on the road visiting all the current commits and reaching out to new targets over the last few weeks. The Captain himself has been on the road as well. The head coach is permitted to make one in-home visit to each recruit in this period and he’s been working through that.
As we look for the name which may fill those open spots, this weekend could be a big indicator. The Hawkeyes will host the vast majority of the existing commits for official visits this weekend. They’ll look to make the hard sell to some of their top targets who will also be making the trip.
We’ll have a full preview of the names to watch heading into the weekend and next week’s signing day later this week.